All they need is a bucket of ice: From left, Jamie Jones, Rebecca Dines, Devin O’Brien and Laura Jane Bailey
Photos by David Allen
Generalizing from isolated anecdotes is risky, even when the anecdotes are particularly compelling. I found that especially true after seeing Aurora Theatre’s knockout production of Mud Blue Sky, a hilarious yet compassionate comedy that revolves around the travails and frustrations of three current and former flight attendants.
Coming away from the show, which opened the Berkeley company’s 24th season, I concurred with viewers who have said that the play amounted to a bleak portrait of an occupation that once brimmed with glamour. The play’s anecdotes, adeptly drawn by Chicago playwright Marisa Wegryzn and dispatched by strong performances, made me wonder why anyone would consider working in the not-so-friendly skies these days.
If anything is enviable about the lives of the play’s three women, all middle-aged veterans of airline life, it escaped me. They’re engrossing and very funny, but I had to wonder whether they really represent the folks who dispense peanuts and Cokes in jets that have only grown more crowded and spartan over the decades.
So I turned to Google, entered a search for “flight attendants,” and came up with a few hits that made the premise seem questionable.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of a site called PayScale.com, but its respondents seemed as if they were not about to quit flying, even if they could find a parachute. A query about job satisfaction brought a rating of five stars out of a possible five; pay scales varied hugely among airlines but weren’t bad for a job that demands only a high school education; and benefits — not counting free flights to faraway places — were probably comparable to most other fields.
What’s that mean where Mud Blue Sky is concerned? Not a thing. It’s a terrific play, not a treatise on airline labor.
She’s mature, he’s young and both face puzzles about the future: Jones as Beth, O’Brien as Jonathan
As entertainment and as an examination of character, it deserves at least four stars out of that possible five. Wegryzn understands people and she understands theatrical dynamics, and crafted those understandings into a 95-minute delight.
The action takes place in and near a travelers’ hotel at the edge of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Entering first is Beth (Jamie Jones), who stretches her aching back and struggles out of her high-heeled shoes before even turning on the lights.
She’s joined a bit later by Sam (Rebecca Dines), an effervescent sort who’s primed to rush out in pursuit of booze and whatever other diversions she can corral before duty calls once more, before sunrise.
Completing the threesome is Angie (Laura Jane Bailey), whose flying days ended when her hipline expanded.
They’re not alone, however. Beth connects with unlikely friend, a male high school senior whom she met on an earlier flight, and brings him to the room for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. His name is Jonathan and he sells pot, which the three eagerly buy even though they have to struggle to pay for it. The role is played with cheerfully hapless awkwardness by Devin O’Brien.
Although the women have undoubtedly logged hundreds of thousands of miles, they are going nowhere, and they know it. Beth and Sam worry about teen-aged sons at home; Angie passes her time caring for elderly parents. None can look ahead to a secure or fulfilling future.
And Jonathan struggles with a teen’s woes: a hot date who has ditched him on prom night, uncertainty about college, turmoil at home.
The undercurrents may be dark but the presentation is for the most part wildly funny, with just one sustained exception. That comes in a long monologue by Angie, recounting an agonizing experience with a passenger who paid her handsomely for a short spell of emotional support. On opening night, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the story unfolded.
Aurora’s artistic director, Tom Ross, provided the expert direction and Kate Boyd designed the set, which transformed smoothly between the hotel and a nearby parking lot, with jets screaming overhead (sound by Chris Houston).
Mud Blue Sky runs through Sept. 27 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $ 32-$ 50 from 510-843-4822 or auroratheatre.org
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